In our client’s continuous production environment, production scheduling was always the final consideration. More often than not, it was used as the last resort to keep everybody else’s promises regarding quantity and delivery.
Management and other functions understood that it was a tough task to materialize a plan that would save the day, every day! However, the constant feeling of not getting ahead, not producing enough or not delivering on time, meant that the burden was always placed on the planner’s shoulders.
Each production plan was always supposed to last for a week but unforeseen issues and events would wreck the plan, and re-planning the schedule was usually a daily occurrence.
Creating the schedule in Excel, without any automatic data capture from other systems, also meant a large amount of time was spent feeding Excel the right numbers so the schedule would compute correctly. A single incorrect or misplaced digit could have huge ramifications, resulting in late delivery, or worse, a failed batch at great monetary expense. Unfortunately, although a rare occurrence, the latter actually happened from time to time.
Our client was in great need of finding a scheduling solution that was robust and scalable, so the solution could be expanded as they introduced new products. In particular, the client wanted the solution to be:
- able to suggest different planning scenarios and have ‘what-if’ capabilities;
- able to plan which personnel were required for specific tasks, and specific shifts;
- connected to all necessary data sources, to remedy the previous problems relating to incorrect data in the schedule;
- visible for all teams and functions involved in production, not only the planner and operators, but also QC, maintenance and management;
- straightforward and intuitive with as flat a learning curve as possible, so that anybody at the company could understand what they were looking at.
To realize the goals set by the client, we looked at various solution offerings on the market and the choice was to go with Opcenter APS, an Advanced Planning and Scheduling solution from Siemens Digital Industries Software.
Opcenter APS is a scheduling solution that has existed for almost 30 years. It has a proven track record across a variety of industries with over 4500 installations worldwide.
For this pharma customer the solution was a perfect fit:
- Adding new recipes and products is easily achieved, and can be carried out in different ways, the fastest of which is to simply upload the recipe (as long as the data is available in another system).
- Opcenter APS has both forward and backward planning capabilities and can be programmed to plan according to the client’s specific instructions set. This meant certain steps in the recipes could be tailored to account for the client’s specific product and equipment requirements.
- ‘What-if’ scheduling is a standard capability with many scheduling systems. What was extra appealing with Opcenter APS was its graphical user interface. Not only was it the solution best liked by the planner, it is also easy to use and makes it possible to include constraints in the plan and to plan around these constraints. For example, when a vessel is receiving maintenance and is not readily available, the planner can choose another vessel that is unoccupied.
- Planning production shifts with the help of a system that considers staff skillsets was a great benefit to planners.
- Opcenter APS has a module to connect to different data sources. Joining the system up to the various sources avoided the need for manually uploading necessary data.
- Setting up computers and screens at several locations provided visibility to management and other functions on the progress of the current schedule.
- The production schedule, presented as a Gantt chart, was intuitive for all teams. The color coding of different processes made it easy to distinguish the various procedures.
Setup and implementation were carried out in project form. All concerned functions were included in the project to capture all aspects relating to scheduling and production, including planners, operators, QC, maintenance and management.
- Capability to create a production schedule and to reschedule in minutes instead of a days – Planning also takes into consideration staffing of shifts, QC testing and maintenance.
- Support for ‘what if’ scenario planning – Planning around predicted events, such as necessary maintenance, is no longer a laborious task for planners.
- Synchronization of actual material and resource usage – Resource availability, including water supply (WFI, PW), is easily monitored and any changes are flagged immediately in the system.
- Visibility – All functions can follow the plan from their station, so planners no longer have to answer the same question many times per day. QC and maintenance can see for themselves when they have tasks to perform.
- Maintenance can schedule their own tasks – Maintenance have moved their planning from the whiteboard into the scheduling system. They no longer need to reconcile what was planned on an Excel sheet with what they had on their whiteboard.